Top Photo: Pine siskins at an older feeder here at museum, February 2013.
I’ve been waiting patiently for winter birds to show up at the feeders here at the museum. Oh, I’ve seen red-breasted nuthatches, white-throated sparrows, dark-eyed juncos, (it’s always good to see them each year) and of course, all the local characters, like chickadees, titmice, white-breasted and brown-headed nuthatches, and so on.
What I’m waiting to see is pine siskins and evening grosbeaks. Those two birds are irregular here in the piedmont. But, they’ve been reported widely throughout the state this fall. Just not at our feeders.
I’ve actually run into small flocks of siskins here at the museum two or three times this fall. But as far as I know they haven’t shown up at the feeders. We have a brand new thistle feeder waiting for them. The seed-eating, goldfinch-sized finches from the north have yet to try it out. The level of the seed hasn’t moved a milimeter since it was first filled and hung.
Evening grosbeaks are a different game. Whereas I see siskins nearly every year (sometimes just one, some years hundreds. One winter, all I found were a few feathers from the wing of a siskin in the snow beneath the feeders) I haven’t seen an evening grosbeak in the state in nearly thirty years. I’ll admit, previous to this year, I haven’t been looking for them. Though, you can’t really look for evening grosbeaks, they show up when they show up, and then they’re gone.
The grosbeaks are fairly large and noisy birds, so when they stop in, or fly over, they grab your attention. Like cedar waxwings, their flocks wander the winter landscape seeking food. When they find it, they descend, devour, and depart.
Evening grosbeaks nest in coniferous forests, both mature and second growth, and though their summer diet consists of caterpillars, aphids, and other insect larvae, they eat a wide variety of seeds. That includes black oil sunflower seeds which I have waiting for them should they decide to visit our feeders.
They’re social birds and can sometimes overwhelm a backyard feeder operation. I once had hundreds descend on my own backyard. They quickly emptied the feeders (I couldn’t fill them fast enough) and cleared the ground of any spilled seed. The next day, they were gone.
I don’t have a picture of an evening grosbeak but there’s a nice photo of a male at Audubon’s site.
I hope they drop in on us.